Krakow was noted as an important town in the middle of the 10th century, becoming a royal residence by the 11th century. Burned down completely by Tartars in 1241 (except for several churches), it was rebuilt in 1251 with its regular network of streets and squares, preserved until now as an example of the medieval city design. Starting from 1320, it was the official site of the coronation of Polish kings and the place of their burial. Krakow continued in this role even when the royal residence had been moved to Warsaw by the end of the 16th century.
In the end of the 18th century Krakow fell under Austrian rule. Nevertheless, since the second half of 19thcentury Krakow and the southern part of Poland enjoyed relative freedom. The Jagiellonian University could use Polish as its official language. While Poland was politically non-existent, Krakow became the real centre of the Polish art, culture, and literature. After World War I, it was the first major town and the first part of restored Poland, liberated by Polish soldiers who refused service in the Austro-Hungarian army. In the years of the Nazi occupation (1939–1945) Krakow was the residence of the General Governor Hans Frank, whose summer palace was after the war transformed into the conference centre of the Jagiellonian University. Under the communist rule, science, literature, and culture in Krakow suffered from the same limitations as everywhere in the Eastern Europe, regaining full freedom after 1989.
Since 1364, Krakow has been the site of one of oldest universities in Europe - the Jagiellonian University. It was also in the 14th century that King Casimir the Great established a twin town (called Kazimierz after his name) on the opposite bank of the Vistula river, which later became a picturesque Jewish town, unique in its character and tradition.
The Royal Wawel Castle
The Old Town of Krakow is a UNESCO protected monument. From the places recommended to visit, the Wawel castle helds the first place, with a complex of buildings forming the Royal residence. Its Gothic (14th century) Royal Cathedral houses the tombs of almost all the Polish kings reigning after 1333. Their graves are partly located in the Cathedral crypt, where one can see well-preserved parts of an earlier, Romanesque church from the late 11th/early 12th century.
A special exhibition "The lost Wawel" shows one of the oldest churches in Poland, the St. Mary's Rotunda - constructed probably at the end of the 10th century - as well as remains of other early-medieval structures. Additionally, there is a computer animation showing the development of the Wawel castle from earliest documented times (the 9-10th century) to its present shape. Worth visiting are the collection of arms and the Royal Treasury arranged in the preserved parts of the Gothic castle, as well as the royal chambers with a collection of renaissance furniture and tapestries in the interior of the 16th century royal palace. After visiting them it is worth to spend a while relaxing at the Renaissance arcade courtyard of the castle and feel the atmosphere of the past epochs still present.
For more detailed information about entrance, tickets and opening hours, please, click here.
History amateurs should seize the opportunity and take a walk from the Wawel towards the centre along the Kanonicza street, enjoying a whole line of picturesque late-gothic and renaissance townhouses. On the way, one can see the best preserved Romanesque (11/12th century) building, the St. Andreas Church, then also early-gothic St. Francis and St. Dominic churches built in the 13th century. Making a small detour to the corner of Św. Anny and Jagiellońska Street allows to visit Collegium Maius - the oldest (early 15th century) University building, now housing the University's Museum of Science full of precious objects and important historical items reflecting the rich history of this place.
The National Museum in Krakow
The National Museum in Krakow was established by a resolution of the Krakow City Council on 7 October 1879, as the first national museum institution at a time when the Polish people were deprived of their own statehood and country, which had been appropriated by the partitioning powers. The mission of the museum is to bear testimony to national and human values by promoting world and Polish art, especially the achievements of the Krakow artistic community. Today, it consists of sixteenth departments (one of them is the Numismatic Cabinet – the Hutten-Czapski Museum) and houses more than 800 000 objects. For more detailed information, please, visit the website.
Oscar Schindler's Factory
Have you seen the famous Spielberg's movie "The Schindler's List"? Events pictured in the movie belong to Krakow's modern history and the Schindler's factory "Emalia" was turned into a museum. There you will take a trip through the city of Krakow in its tragical episode of the Nazi occupation illustrated with real objects, not a Hollywood vision. A history not to be forgotten and a great museum! For more information, please, click here.
Wieliczka Salt Mine
It is a wonderful attraction and the well internationaly known underground museum recorded on the UNESCO list. If you are tired with regular museum visiting, this is something for you! For example, if you decide to subscribe for the Miners' Route, for 3 hours you will turn into a miner, get dirty for sure (special overalls included), but even taking the Tourist Route option means to explore kilmeters of ancient corridors and unique chambers (for instance: the chapel of St. Kinga decorated with statues carved in the blocks of salt) and bring some salt crystals as a souvenir. The only thing you need is to take a train from the Main Railway Station in Krakow. Within 30 minutes you will come to a historical salt mining town Wieliczka. Please, visit the website.
Memorial and Museum – a unique and tragic place, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers. Over 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives here. It is a place of great importance for the postwar world preserved as a memorial and warning. For more information, see here.